Watford fans rightly outraged at the inflated ticket prices for the Boxing Day clash at Stamford Bridge should be careful they don’t protest too much and damage relations with Chelsea. Imagine if the Blues threw their expensive toys out of their expensive pram and recalled Nathan Ake. Now that would really be a kick in the teeth.
We don’t think there is a break clause in the season long loan deal and Chelsea are not that petty anyway but the point is just how important Ake is to the balance and make up of this Watford side. Quique Sanchez Flores is not a big one for statistics; he prefers to use his trained eye and use his senses. But should he need any confirmation of what he saw at Villa Park on Saturday, the stat below would back it up.
Think, for a moment, of all the players in the Premier League, of all the rich talent there is on show. Yet from that vast pool of players in the self-styled greatest league in the world nobody has made more interceptions in the 140 games so far this season. That’s pretty impressive.
“Normally at 20 years [of age] players need time but he is very safe and has a lot of confidence in himself,” said the Watford head coach. “He’s playing well and is ready to learn. When he doesn’t understand something he says, ‘Coach, I need to know’. The character of the person is amazing.”
Nothing will endear a player more to Sanchez Flores than a desire to work hard and a sponge-like approach in training. It helps that Ake, despite being brought through the gilded system at Chelsea and with the security of a bumper five-year contract under his belt, is a humble young man. He’s very mild-mannered and softly spoken. The word from the training ground is that there is not a single trace of any big-time attitude about him. They say the same about him at Reading, where he spent a short loan spell last season.
He has also caught the eye of the pundits.
“There is a lot of talk about Deeney and Ighalo, but a young boy came on last week [against Manchester United] who changed the game a fair bit, called Nathan Ake, on loan from Chelsea,” said Soccer Saturday presenter Jeff Stelling. “Could he return to Chelsea and play as a Chelsea player, looking at how he is playing?”
Matt Le Tissier took up the thread.
“I have said it about lot of Chelsea players over time, but Chelsea don’t seem to want to give those guys a chance,” said the former Southampton forward. “It is a shame as he did do very well, and he has kept his place in the team today [against Villa], which is great, he has given himself a chance. He only had 45 minutes last week [against United], he has gone and grabbed it by the scruff of the neck and now he has kept his place.”
Ake feels his best position is as a holding midfielder and many good judges at Chelsea feel he is a centre back.
“He he started off as a centre back, but I don’t think he is tough enough, which may come down to age at the moment,” said Charlie Nicholas. “He has played centre mid, more holding. He is athletic enough. I have seen him four times for Watford and he does a steady job.”
The Chelsea loan players, of which there are more than 30, have apparently set up a WhatsApp so they can stay in touch from different European outposts and share their progress. You can bet the others will have to drag it out of the Holland Under-21 international how well he is doing at Vicarage Road.